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Senior Retirement Communities: A Guide to 55+ Living

“Senior retirement community" is an all-encompassing term that refers to the wide range of housing and care options available for older adults.

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Generally divided into four categories – active, age-restrictive, lifestyle, and independent – retirement communities come in a variety of dwelling forms, from apartments and townhomes to cottages and RVs. Each community also provides an abundance of amenities, ranging from free local transportation and laundry service to on-site recreation opportunities.

Designed to promote and prolong independence, many communities also incorporate senior-friendly accommodations, such as no-step entries, wheelchair-accessible entrances, open floor plans, and walk-in showers. Research suggests people who live in retirement communities tend to stay healthier longer, enjoy life more, and feel less lonely than individuals who reside elsewhere.

Types of Retirement Communities

All senior retirement communities provide residents with a safe home environment, social community, and amenities; however, the specific housing, comforts, and services can look quite different depending on the kind of retirement community the older adult is seeking. For details on each type of group, see below.

Assisted Living Retirement Communities

Assisted living retirement communities offer seniors a unique combination of apartment or condo living accommodations, planned social activities, and moderate support with daily needs, such as bathing, dressing, medication management, or running errands. Additional services may include meal preparation, laundry, and transportation to medical appointments.

These communities are best suited for individuals who need more care than they can get at home or within an independent community. In contrast to a skilled nursing facility, professional healthcare personnel are not available on the facility’s grounds. Even though many assisted living residences have a nurse on staff, they’re usually not available 24/7 and cannot meet the needs of the entire community’s population.

They are also suitable for older adults who want to remain near a loved one who has dementia. This is because many assisted living communities also house memory units that are safe for older adults with early to mid-stage dementia. Still, it’s important to remember that assisted living facilities do not provide direct healthcare services for residents. They do, however, commonly coordinate with healthcare providers, such as dentists, hospice nurses, counselors, and physical therapists, to visit the facility to help with specialized care. This setup allows residents to benefit from specialized care without requiring an inpatient hospital or nursing home setting. Despite needing some assistance, seniors in assisted living facilities are encouraged to engage and interact with their community. With numerous options like fitness classes, off-campus outings, crafting classes, and other forms of recreation, residents have plenty of chances to meet new people.

To learn more about assisted living, read our guide: What Is Assisted Living?

Independent Living Retirement Communities

Independent living communities often look like everyday neighborhoods with seniors living in freestanding houses, townhomes, mobile homes, and occasionally, even tiny homes or RVs that share access to clubhouses. However, unlike a typical neighborhood, these communities consist of only individuals over the age of 55, who, in most cases, are healthy, active, and fully capable of living on their own without assistance with daily living activities.

These communities assist with certain home and neighborhood responsibilities that would otherwise fall on residents, so shared lawn care, laundry, security, and housekeeping services are included in the rent. Frequently, transportation, social programs, prepared meals, wellness coaches, and exercise programs are also part of the community services. While independent living communities are known for more affordable rent and fewer amenities, some also offer unique amenities like on-site bars, game rooms, and movie theaters.

To learn more about independent living, check out our guide to senior housing alternatives.

Age-Restricted Retirement Communities

Ideal for active seniors who want to live in a quiet place conducive to getting to know the people next door, age-restricted communities are neighborhoods that are intended for and legally limited to individuals over a designated age. Based on the Fair Housing Act and regulated by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), age-restricted retirement communities must have at least one person who is age 55 or older in at least 80 percent of the occupied residences. Alternatively, an age-restricted community may be composed solely of individuals 62 years of age or older.

Depending on the community, residents may rent or own a single-family home, condo, townhouse or apartment. Seniors are still responsible for the interior upkeep of their homes and meal prep, but communities typically provide landscaping and neighborhood groundskeeping services. While amenities also vary by community, pools, fitness centers, golf courses, walking or bike paths, and social venues are common in these master-planned communities.

Lifestyle Retirement Communities

Certain communities cater to more than just a resident’s age; they also focus on shared characteristics, including interests, heritage, faith, and career background. Fittingly, these are called lifestyle, or niche, retirement communities, and they are best for active older adults who want to spend time on their passions and live around like-minded others.

Common lifestyle communities include those who share an affinity for hobbies like dance, health, golf or art. Some lesser-known lifestyle communities are purposefully centered in areas to help residents of the community focus on that particular group’s passions. For example, a community may be located on or around a college campus, allowing residents to enrich their minds and enjoy the intellectual environs.

Other examples include: an aviation group who may have an affiliation with a mini airport; a community of astronomy lovers who enjoy looking at dark sky spaces; and any number of unique circles of like-minded individuals, including aging hippie communities, former mail carriers, avid equestrians, and ecovillages. They’re even several 100-acre-plus properties situated across the country that are set aside for groups such as these to participate in shared experiences.

Retirement Community Options

Obviously, when selecting a senior retirement community, it’s important to know the costs associated with the different categories.

Your geographic location, type of community, and the amenities included will have the most influence on your total retirement community costs. As a 55-plus member in the age-restricted retirement community, you will need to make monthly payments either towards a mortgage or rent. Plan on paying for the conveniences or amenities through fees added to your rent or HOA fees.

After you’ve decided on a community type and determined that it’s within your price range, comparing costs will also help you decide what kind of dwelling you should select.

Retirement House Communities

Older adults who want to retire in a single-family home have many choices.This type of dwelling is available in almost all senior retirement-type communities but is most commonly found in gated luxury or age-restricted communities. In these living situations, you would most likely be required to purchase your home. In many cases, paying a mortgage can cost more than renting; however, you'll be retaining the financial and tax benefits that come with home ownership. Retirement communities featuring single-family homes can range from $100,000 to over $1 million, depending on the location, size, and amenities.

If you don’t have the money to buy, you’ll need to plan to pay monthly rent and yearly HOA fees. You may be required to pay an entrance fee when you first move in as well. As you search for a community, keep in mind that while amenities are exciting, they also drive up HOA costs. And $1,000 a month in HOA fees certainly takes away from the win of finding your perfect house. Although freestanding homes in these types of communities allow for a lot of privacy and freedoms, you need to be prepared for lower levels of provided care except for a few senior-friendly services, such as landscaping and neighborhood security, that the HOA provides.

Retirement Apartment Communities

Apartments are quite common among retirees, but in senior communities, they don’t usually come with the typical pitfalls associated with renting. For instance, there’s no screaming children outside or teenage rock bands playing upstairs. Community walkways are typically wider and easier to access with a wheelchair. Some communities construct the apartments for ease of use as well, with accommodations like sinks with knee clearance, raised toilets, or bars for stabilization. With this form of housing, you’ll pay rent each month and possibly some additional fees if your community doesn’t offer an all-inclusive fee structure.

Retirement community apartments can appear in a variety of forms. Some can look like a luxury resort community featuring gourmet chefs, a travel exchange program, and an open invitation for your pets. Some apartment residences may include an assisted living center where your spouse can get the care they need, and you can get a workout in at the fitness center every morning. Other senior community apartments may be simple, low-cost, and located in an age-restricted complex where you can enjoy the quiet and meet other active seniors. And still others offer condo and townhome apartment options within a single complex.

Luxury lifestyle apartments can run you about $2,500 per month. A senior retirement apartment for 55-plus with minimal amenities could be as low as $1,500 monthly or as high as $4,000 per month. You may be able to pay for age-restricted apartments that qualify as low-income housing with government-issued stipends.As you search for a community, keep in mind that while amenities are exciting, they also drive up HOA costs. And $1,000 a month in HOA fees certainly takes away from the win of finding your perfect house. Although freestanding homes in these types of communities allow for a lot of privacy and freedoms, you need to be prepared for lower levels of provided care except for a few senior-friendly services, such as landscaping and neighborhood security, that the HOA provides.

How to Pay for Senior Retirement Communities

Costs associated with living in a retirement community vary significantly based on location, type of community, residence, and amenities provided.

When you decide to move into a 55+ retirement community, it’s wise to plan for the impact it will have on your finances. Whether you’re renting or paying a mortgage, you should be prepared to make a monthly payment toward your senior housing for as long as you live in the retirement community. Additionally, some communities require upfront and/or membership fees. Finally, if you own your property, you’ll also be responsible for paying HOA fees, which can be expensive if your community has lots of amenities or services.

Many people pay for a home or condo in a senior retirement community by either using a reverse mortgage on their current home or by selling the property outright and paying for their new home with the money they make from the sale.

Those who plan to pay rent for their 55+ retirement apartment can consider a number of sources, including: Social Security benefits and pensions, Supplemental Security Income, 401(k)s, annuity payments and other retirement accounts, personal funds, investments, aid from family and friends, and other financial assets.

Medicare and Medicaid

Medicare will not pay for any custodial or nonmedical long-term care. Hence, it will not cover a senior retirement community or an assisted living facility. However, if you need short-term rehabilitation, Medicare will cover the cost of a home health worker for up to 90 days. In some cases, income-eligible seniors may receive Medicaid assistance for the cost of assisted living.

To learn more about paying for these communities, read our guide: How Much Does Assisted Living Cost?

Write a Letter to Your Home’s New Owner: Excited about the future but struggling with leaving the house your kids grew up in? Try writing a letter to the new owner. Include things like what you loved about the home and a few favorite memories. This makes an excellent gift for the incoming family, but it can also be an effective way of getting closure even if you end up not leaving it for them.

Choosing the Right Retirement Community

With thousands of senior retirement communities, older adults in the United States have a surplus of choices for where to spend their coming years. If you’ve decided a retirement community is the best move for you, how do you select the community that’s the right fit?

In the following section we’ll address the variables you should weigh in order to gauge which community is your ideal choice. These include location, social environment, physical features, types of care and services offered, available amenities, the staff and their training requirements, and your budget.

Social Environment

Knowing that you’re stepping into a positive social setting is an essential aspect of a healthy senior community experience. As you explore communities online and in person, you can get a feel for the social environment by simply visiting each one.

Look for residences where on-site staff is welcoming and address residents by their names. It also says a lot about the community if the residents go out of their way to speak with you. Furthermore, keep your eyes peeled for communities that have diverse recreation schedules, and specifically hobbies you enjoy. These group activities provide shared experiences and interaction among residents. With the right community, you’ll be in an environment where you can make new friends while doing activities you enjoy, all without leaving home.

Physical Features

The physical appearance and features of a community can impact your mood, mobility, and even safety. Find a senior retirement community where the location and building make you feel safe. If you’ve always dreamed of living in a certain location, start your search there.

Also, ask for floor plans and community maps. Determine whether you think the community is easy to navigate and if your potential apartment or house is conducive to your mobility level and preferences. If you use a wheelchair, you’ll want to look for accommodations like extra-wide doorways, and knee clearance in the kitchen and restroom. Finally, ask how often sprinklers and fire detectors are tested or replaced.

Care and Health Services

Care levels and health services available on-site and the proximity of larger healthcare facilities can make a big difference. If you have biweekly appointments with a specialist, try to find an assisted living community that schedules on-site visits with medical professionals or is situated next to a health facility.

Those seeking an assisted living community, especially individuals selecting a home for a loved one with memory care issues, should double-check the medical credentials of the staff and ensure they are sufficiently trained.

For active seniors selecting independent, age-restricted, or lifestyle communities, look into options that provide a wide variety of fitness and exercise offerings or special services like massage, heart health, or nutritional programs.

Homes, Apartments and Rooms

Since your home is one of the places you spend a majority of your time, the apartments and rooms available in the retirement community you choose should accommodate your needs in as many ways as possible.

During your retirement community search, find out what rooms and apartment sizes are available and honestly ask yourself if the options provided will be both safe and comfortable enough to live in. Will your current furnishings fit your potential new home? If not, what items are you willing to part with? For apartments, ask about rules related to moving within the community.

Also, find out if the living spaces can accommodate any mobility aids you or a loved one use regularly. This includes restroom accommodations. If you need to call the community prior to a tour and ask for measurements or photos of a few key areas, do so. Most communities routinely fulfill similar requests. Lastly, ask about the policies for moving in and out and determine whether you can reasonably comply.

Billing and Financing

Financial transparency is critical when selecting your senior residence. If a community is unwilling to provide you with information regarding its financial stability and history, that’s a big red flag and it’s time to move on.

Additional information such as price structures for each care level, acceptable payment methods, and means through which residents pay for ancillary services should be easy to understand. Communities should also provide you with their billing, payment, and credit policies in writing. These should include details about what fees do and do not include and when they are subject to increases. Once you’ve gathered all these documents, take a few days and look them over carefully. Then, when you speak with the community’s current residents, be sure to confirm these are not structures or policies that are changed frequently.

Staffing and Training

Staff can make or break a community. Make sure you find a community where staff members are friendly, well-qualified, and trustworthy. You can ensure these traits by searching for communities where staff complete regular training on elder abuse and neglect, and there’s a strict policy for reporting suspected mistreatment. You’ll also want to confirm that the community you select performs criminal background checks and speaks with references for all employees before bringing them on staff.

How to Find a Senior Retirement Community

Finding your best-fit retirement community is a process. Just knowing that you want to live around other older adults or having a vague idea of the location or lifestyle you want is a world away from selecting and deciding on your top-choice community. So, what steps should you take to complete such an enormous task?

Start small by considering what level of care you’ll need. Do you feel comfortable with minimal care, where your life would remain similar to what it looks like currently? Except, of course, your neighbors would be closer in age, you’d have shared security, minimal yard work and essential housekeeping characteristic of many independent communities.

Alternatively, do you need a higher level of care, similar to what assisted living provides? Or are you looking for somewhere in between the two, like many lifestyle or age-restricted communities? Remember to be realistic so you don’t end up in a setting you regret. Get to know each of the community categories we’ve discussed.

Once you decide on the type of community you want to live in – assisted living, independent living, age-restricted, or lifestyle – take a look at your finances, available assets, and any retirement savings you’ve accumulated. Use these to determine a monthly rate you feel comfortable living on in a senior community. Remember, if you own your current home, you can use the money from selling it to pay for rent or apply it toward a new mortgage in your senior community.

After deciding on a price point, it’s time to select a location and make a list of retirement communities in the area that meets your care-level needs, community-type preferences, and budgetary requirements. With online research, narrow that list down to your favorite options and tour your top choices. Be sure to ask lots of questions during your tours. After your tour, compare and contrast the potential living situations, ask more questions if needed, and take your time making a final decision.

To learn more about housing options, be sure to read our guide: Alternatives to Assisted Living.

Senior Retirement Community Frequently Asked Questions

Many people find 55+ communities worthwhile, as they are known for maintenance-free living, senior-friendly design, luxurious amenities, and opportunities to meet and socialize with other older adults.

When you add up the average annual cost of a home and living for seniors, including food, utilities, supplies, entertainment, and gas, it totals approximately $57,200. When you compare that number to the cost of the average independent retirement community cost in Massachusetts, the country’s most expensive state, it totals $36,000. That’s more than $20,000 less.

  • A single-family home in a senior lifestyle or age-restricted community may range from $100,000 to as much as a few million, depending on the location and the amenities available.


55+ communities offer a variety of benefits, including lower home purchase costs, quieter communities, shared support services such as yard care, security, provided meals, and maintenance staff for interior repairs. In addition, seniors who live in these communities are more active, more likely to live longer, and are happier overall.

Written By

Amie Clark

Amie has been writing about senior care products and services for the last decade. She is particularly passionate about new technologies that help improve the quality of life for seniors and their families. Seeing her parents and grandparents age made Amie ask herself, “Would this be good enough for my loved ones?” In her spare time, Amie enjoys outdoor adventures and spontaneous road trips. Learn more about Amie here